By Don Hall
When you start a new job, you expect some good and some bad. Larry Dunaway started a new job as mayor of Nashville in January of 2023. He was in for a big surprise.
“A lot of the job is what I expected, but there have been some things that happened that were totally unexpected,” he confesses.
The new mayor, who had been a city employee since 1993, thought he knew what he was getting into.
Maybe not. First the bad, and then the good.
In July, Husqvarna, one of the two biggest employers in Nashville, announced that it was leaving at the end of 2024. The next day, Dunaway and Howard County Judge Brent Pinkerton were in Little Rock meeting with the Arkansas Economic Development Commission. “That’s been in the forefront of my mind ever since, finding someone to replace Husqvarna,” says the mayor.
Husqvarna owns three manufacturing plants and several warehouses in Nashville, and the company wants to sell all of its properties as a package deal.
The international company has its own real estate division, and local government is left out of the loop on what the progress of selling may be.
Husqvarna has informed the city that there is serious interest from several potential buyers but isn’t sharing any names.
“It’s going to have to be somebody big,” Dunaway said, “and hopefully, that will mean a lot of jobs.”
While losing a major employer is certainly not good news, some good has come of it.
A local economic development committee has been formed with local business leaders, the county judge, and former mayors. “We’ve put them together with the college in what we’re calling Developing Howard County,” Dunaway says.
The University of Arkansas-Cossatot has been working for years to further economic development in Sevier and Little River counties, where the college has a presence, and now Howard County is included. All three counties now have economic development coordinators. “We’ve hired Vanessa Weeks, and she’s already working on bringing business into Howard County,” said Mayor Dunaway. “We’ll be able to pool our resources with the development committees from Sevier and Little River counties to bring industry and jobs to this area,” he added.
One of the mayor’s goals for the Developing Howard County board was to include Blacks, Hispanics and Whites as members. “We’re all about Nashville,” he said. “I’m looking at Nashville as a whole. We wanted a good cross-section of our community.“
What else is in the works?
“We’re going to make it easier to start new businesses,” the mayor said. “We’re working with Pilgrim’s to acquire property to set up a central place for food trucks and other businesses. It‘s just a matter of ironing out the details.”
In addition, the city is recruiting businesses which are interested in opening locations in Nashville in empty buildings like the old Crow-Burlingame and Western Sizzlin’ buildings.
The prospects look good to replace Husqvarna and create new small businesses. And now for the good.
The other major employer in Nashville is Tyson Foods, and while it’s been closing plants in other parts of the country, it’s expanding here in Nashville.
“They’re increasing their capacity by 25% at the processing plant. They’re also building 130 or so new chicken houses in our area,” says Mayor Dunaway.
Increased capacity means an increased demand for water at Tyson’s processing plant. That’s right in the wheelhouse of the mayor, who spent years as the public works director for Nashville.
“We have a water plant expansion in the works to accommodate the increased demand,” he said.
The water plant is going to go from the present 6 million gallons a day to at least 10 million. “For a town our size, a 10 million gallon per day plant is huge,” he states.
The 130 new chicken houses that are being built will greatly increase the need for water in the surrounding area as well.
Nashville currently provides rural water for Howard, Pike and Hempstead counties, and the mayor is confident that the water plant expansion will supply all the water needed for the rural water associations, as well as for Tyson and the rest of Nashville.
Mayor Dunaway recognizes the importance of Tyson Foods to Nashville. “Tyson has been an excellent community partner for us over the years. The investment they’re putting into our community is significant,” Dunaway says.
While Tyson has opened a new hatchery in Hope and moved its feed mill to Fulton, the plan is to leave the processing plant in Nashville.
“The situation with Husqvarna has opened my eyes to the need to take care of the other businesses in our town,” the mayor said. “Our goal for the new year is to keep the existing businesses here happy and healthy and to draw in new businesses.”
When asked what else he would like the people of Nashville to know, Mayor Dunaway doesn’t hesitate. “I want to make sure everyone knows just how lucky we are to live in this community. We are blessed to live in a place where people care about each other.”
He is especially proud of the people who work for the city. “I want the people of Nashville to know how fortunate we are to have these employees who work for you. They’re your employees.“
And after a difficult last half of 2023, there’s one other thing Mayor Dunaway wants everyone to know: “The future is looking much brighter for Nashville, Ark.”